Forget ‘Woe is Me!’ – How Are You?

What are you truly great at? It’s probably something that only you can do—and something that others in your life, or your organization, or your family, tend to struggle with. Begin to identify what I call your “highest and best use” and you’ll be a few steps closer to uncovering your true purpose.

While uncovering your “purpose” may be a bit deep for most of us, the question about our “highest and best use” is something we’re all confronted with at some point—especially those of us in the entrepreneurial world.

You see, most entrepreneurs start out with an idea, which usually revolves around something we’re great at. But as our businesses grow, or as the road gets tough and we encounter roadblocks and pitfalls, we tend to get buried in the tyranny of the urgent. We go into survival mode—flight or fight.

I believe that we can often get so distracted by the chaos around us that we forget who we are. We forget our true purpose in life—much less our reasons for being in business.

That’s exactly what happened to me in 2023. If I’m being honest—for a period of time there, I felt like I lost my way.

My Highest and Best Use

Before I jump into how I lost my way, let me tell you a little about what “my way” is and how I found it in the first place.

In 2015, I participated in Stagen Leadership Academy’s Integral Leadership Program, a 52-week leadership program designed to “transform the lives and effectiveness of executives and their teams”. One of the most impactful benefits of the program is an exercise to identify your purpose. Through that process, I uncovered my true purpose—to challenge and inspire those around me.

Those of you who know me, know this fits me well. You know that I’m the happiest, least stressed, and most effective when I’m serving (challenging and inspiring!) others. This often means that I serve as a sounding board for people around me—listening to your challenges, encouraging you, and often helping you solve your own problems.

I do this on a daily basis with my team or with clients or candidates. I also do it every spring on the baseball fields in Austin, coaching a team of 7 and 8-year-olds to be all they can be. (My youngest son is 17, so I don’t even have a kid on the team!). And in Westlake High School, helping students learn more about the power of entrepreneurship and working together as a team. Obviously I don’t get “paid” for these roles—but the reward is more intrinsic. I’ve always known this “need to serve” was central in my life, but it wasn’t until recently that I truly accepted this as part of my purpose.

A Bit More Background

In March 2020, the world changed. Yes, we all know what happened, but bear with me for a minute. At the time, I was still the CEO of HireBetter—a company devoted to helping good people build great companies by helping them attract, hire, and retain a kickass team. Let’s just say that in Q2 of 2020… there wasn’t a lot of growing or hiring going on! In fact, most companies were more in need of what we joke is our alter ego company, FireBetter!

While most of the world was still in shock, I immediately thought about what I could do to help. Distilleries paused liquor production and produced hand sanitizer, clothing companies made face masks, and so on. If HireBetter couldn’t help people through our traditional service offerings, what could we do? How could I help?

Most of you know that I dove headlong into creating CEO Forums to help leaders deal with the chaos and the unknown—survive the pandemic and thrive on the other side.

The pandemic year was a gift in many ways. It helped me focus on my highest and best use—and my purpose. Everything I did that year, from setting up the CEO Forums, to stepping aside as CEO of HireBetter, to getting me out of my comfort zone doing LinkedIn Lives, and beginning the process of writing Who’s Your Mike? came directly from my purpose. When there wasn’t much I could do to grow my business, I could always find ways to serve others.

Being driven by my purpose helped me and HireBetter survive those dark times. And to be honest, it was exhilarating! We had a team that had been through the fire together, and we felt like we could take on anything. But sometimes life has a funny way of bringing you back down to Earth.

Fast Forward

HireBetter survived the pandemic-induced lull and raced into the following years with a “Let’s Go!” mantra. Together, we lived our HireBetter purpose—helping good people build great companies. And it paid off…at first.

As HireBetter’s Chief Evangelist, I did my best to serve others. I wrote Who’s Your Mike? to share lessons learned and I continued to help entrepreneurs—well, people—as much as possible by connecting and listening to them. Outside of HireBetter, I continued serving as an angel investor, helping entrepreneurs turn their dreams into realities.

But as time went by, the sand started shifting. And things seemed to come to a head in 2023.

With headlines constantly warning of an impending recession, businesses weren’t exactly lining up for recruiting services. For many, fears of recession meant delaying key hiring and putting searches on hold, which definitely impacted HireBetter’s business.

Things on the HireBetter front were exacerbated by a large bet we made in Q4 of 2022. We did something we’d been wanting to do for years. We acquired a company to add to our service offerings, and added a number of talented, passionate people to the HireBetter team. But the acquisition didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped. (They never do!) In hindsight, buying another recruiting firm right before a downturn might not have been the best move.

Outside of HireBetter, things didn’t go so well for me either. One of the companies I’d heavily invested in was forced into involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy, meaning that my investment in time, money, and energy was completely gone. And two other companies that seemed to be doing well were basically put out of business when their respective banks panicked and called their lines of credit. To put it succinctly – it was a very stressful time.

Losing My Way

With everything going on, I basically lost track of who I was. I found that I became more self-centered and self-absorbed. When I sat down with clients or candidates—or even friends—I found myself thinking, “How can this person help me?” It seemed like I was no longer interested in “challenging and inspiring” others. I was looking for someone to solve my problems.

Looking back on it now, I’m ashamed of my “woe is me” attitude. That’s not who I am! Here I am trying to lead by example and working in service to others—but I faltered. And without admitting it and owning up to it, I feel like I’d be doing everyone a disservice.

The good news is that I had an epiphany when catching up with a longtime friend. He and I have a unique relationship, built partially on our mutual love for sarcasm. We’re badass smartasses. So when I texted a few months back to invite him to a happy hour, I threw in a sarcastic “and thanks for checking on me!”

I was floored when he responded back that he was sorry, and that he had been going through a really tough patch lately.

Wow! That was like someone slapping me upside my head. I think it was God’s way of reminding me of my true purpose—which I had clearly set aside. I was so busy wallowing in my own misfortune, that I lost my way. I hadn’t even thought to ask my friend how he was doing. Crap! And I pride myself on checking in on others.

We ended up going to lunch, I gave him a hug and an ear to talk to and a shoulder to lean on. I mostly just listened and served as a sounding board for him in his time of need. He’d been hit with the same type of professional challenges I had, but he was also going through the wringer personally. He just needed a friend. He didn’t need me to sell him anything. He needed to talk, and I needed to listen. Honestly, I needed it as much as he did.

Waking Up

That conversation was a wakeup call. I went home, did a lot of thinking and praying. I realized I simply needed to let go of things I can’t control. Turn those things over to God. I’m not the CEO of the universe! I certainly don’t need to act like I’m supposed to be. By trying to control things that I couldn’t, I pushed my true purpose out of frame.

I knew that I needed to get out of my “woe is me” mindset and get back to living by a different set of principles. I needed to ask, “How are you? What can I do for you?” NOT “What can you do for me?!”

When I live this way, not only am I using my skills to their maximum potential, I’m happier and more fulfilled. I’m less stressed about what I can’t control and have more energy and time to focus on serving others and solving problems—in both my professional life and personal life.

I sat down and reflected on what I can do for others. I realized I need to pause amid whatever chaos is happening for me, and check on the people around me. Don’t just say, “How are you?” as a flippant form of “hello.” And don’t take, “Fine, how are you?” as an appropriate response. Dig deeper, look for verbal and nonverbal cues that things may NOT be “fine.” (More often than not, they aren’t these days.) Listen to them—truly listen. Don’t try to sell something. Hell, maybe don’t even try to solve something! Be a friend, a sounding board. Let them bounce ideas or problems off of you. You never know how you might be able to help. We’re all going through something.

I also realized that I needed that wakeup call. Life had to bash me over the head to remind me about my purpose. There’s a reason God gave me the skills He gave me. Serving others is a big part of what makes me who I am. I needed to be reminded that wallowing in misery or throwing myself into my day-to-day problems wasn’t going to solve everything. Being my true, authentic self is a good start!

And while HireBetter certainly isn’t out of the woods yet, we’re turning the corner. There’s a ton of hard work that went into that, but I believe a big part of it has been refocusing on our purpose—both individually and collectively.

Reach Out, Reflect, Resign

Normally, I’d just give you one piece of homework. But this epiphany has impacted me so much, that I’m going to give you three:

  1. Reach out to others. Show them you care, and that you’re there for them. Be a sounding board for their challenges and ideas. Don’t think, “What’s in it for me?” Think, “How can I help you?”
  2. Reflect on your true purpose. For me, serving others IS the purpose. Maybe yours is making things easier for others by designing killer workflows, or mediating conflict, or cooking great meals. Whatever it is, make space for it. Try living your highest and best use as much as you can.
  3. Resign as the CEO of the Universe. You can’t control everything, and you shouldn’t want to! Recognize the things within your control and leave the others alone.

We don’t lose our way overnight, and we don’t find our way back overnight either. So as we embrace this new year, give yourself a good honest look and take some baby steps to righting your ship, wherever it might have drifted. Here’s to a great 2024!

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